Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant: 4 Important Facts

Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant

When considering careers in healthcare, two options that often come up are pharmacy technician vs medical assistant. Both provide important support roles in patient care environments. However, there are some key differences between the two careers that are worth examining when deciding which path to pursue. This article will compare and contrast pharmacy technicians and medical assistants on education requirements, job duties, work settings, salary potential, and career advancement opportunities.

Need answers to pharmacy technician questions? Our article, Pharmacy Technician Questions: 9 Important Differences, has you covered.

Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant: A Comparison

Education Requirements

The education needed to become a pharmacy technician or medical assistant differs significantly. Pharmacy technicians typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and complete a training program. Many pharmacy tech training programs take 1-2 years to complete and award a certificate or associate’s degree. Programs cover topics like pharmacy law, medication safety, pharmacy calculations, and more. Additionally, most states require pharmacy techs to register with the state’s Board of Pharmacy. Some states also require passing a certification exam such as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).

In contrast, medical assistants have several education paths available. Postsecondary medical assisting programs take 1-2 years and lead to a certificate or associate’s degree. Another option is to complete a 1-year on-the-job training program offered by some employers. Regardless of path, medical assistants should obtain certification from an organization like the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). Certification requires passing an exam after finishing an accredited program or gaining work experience.

Overall, pharmacy technicians require less formal education than medical assistants to enter the field. However, pharmacy techs typically need to register with their state and pass a standardized exam for certification.

Pharmacy technicians typically work in pharmacies, while medical assistants can work in a variety of settings, including doctors’ offices, hospitals, and clinics.

— Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant

Job Duties and Work Settings

The day-to-day job responsibilities of pharmacy technicians and medical assistants also show key differences.

Pharmacy technicians primarily work in pharmacies within drug, grocery and mass retailer stores. They perform a range of tasks related to preparing and dispensing prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist. Common duties include receiving prescription requests, measuring medication amounts, compounding medications, maintaining patient records, and handling insurance-related issues. Pharmacy techs also play an important role in pharmacy operations by stocking shelves, taking inventory, and handling customer service issues.

In comparison, medical assistants primarily work in physician offices, hospitals and other healthcare facilities under the direction of physicians or nurses. Their job duties focus more on administrative and clinical tasks. Examples of administrative duties include scheduling appointments, maintaining patient medical records, handling billing and coding, and contacting insurance companies for authorization. Clinical tasks include taking patient histories, recording vital signs, assisting with exams or procedures, collecting lab specimens, and educating patients on treatments.

So in summary, pharmacy technicians play a bigger role in medication dispensing duties while medical assistants perform more mixed administrative and patient care related tasks.

To become a medical assistant, you typically need to complete a medical assistant training program, which can be completed in as little as one year. Some employers may also require you to pass a certification exam.

— Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant

Salary Potential

Salaries also show noticeable differences between these two allied healthcare roles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national mean wage for pharmacy technicians as of May 2021 was $36,450 per year ($17.54 per hour). The lowest 10% earned less than $25,710 while the highest 10% earned more than $53,440 annually.

Comparatively, the BLS reports a national mean salary of $37,190 ($17.90 per hour) for medical assistants. The lowest 10% made under $28,820 and the highest 10% made over $52,580 per year.

While mean wages are similar, pharmacy technician salaries show slightly more variability with higher potential earnings. Geographic location, work setting, certification level, and years of experience impact salaries for both careers. Overall, both represent relatively moderate earning healthcare support roles.

Career Advancement Opportunities

In terms of long-term career growth, pharmacy technicians and medical assistants have some differences in advancement opportunities.

For pharmacy techs, experienced technicians may take on lead or supervisor roles managing teams of other techs. They may also pursue specialty certifications in areas like sterile compounding, vaccine administration or billing/reimbursement that provide higher earning potential. Some choose to return to school to become pharmacists. However, upward mobility is relatively limited compared to other healthcare roles.

Medical assistants have clearer advancement opportunities into nursing, healthcare administration and other allied health careers with additional education. They build a mix of clinical and administrative skills directly applicable to these pathways. Some medical assistants pursue additional certifications in sub-specialties like ophthalmic or podiatric medical assisting as well. Overall, medical assistants tend to have more options to advance to higher paying healthcare positions.

Pharmacy technicians typically need to complete a shorter training program than medical assistants.

— Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant


In summary, key differences exist between pharmacy technicians and medical assistants in terms of education requirements, job duties, salary potential and advancement opportunities. Pharmacy techs focus more on medication preparation and inventory management primarily in pharmacy settings. Medical assistants perform administrative and basic clinical tasks in physicians’ offices and healthcare facilities. While salaries are moderately similar initially, medical assistants tend to have more career growth prospects. Understanding these differences can help guide those exploring healthcare career options determine which pathway aligns best with their interests and professional goals.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pharmacy Technician vs Medical Assistant

What are the main differences between a pharmacy technician and a medical assistant?

The main differences are in their typical job duties, work settings, and educational requirements. Pharmacy technicians work in pharmacies assisting pharmacists with medication dispensing. Medical assistants work in healthcare facilities performing administrative and basic clinical tasks. Pharmacy techs typically need a high school diploma and specialized training program. Medical assistants can pursue various paths from 1-year certificate programs to associate’s degrees.

Pharmacy technician vs medical assistant: Which pays more

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salaries are moderately similar though pharmacy technicians have a slightly higher median wage. The mean annual salary for pharmacy techs is $36,450 vs. $37,190 for medical assistants. Salary depends on factors like location, work setting, certification level and years of experience for both careers.

Do medical assistants and pharmacy technicians require certification?

Certification is highly recommended for both careers, though some states require pharmacy technicians to be registered or certified to practice. Medical assistants can obtain voluntary certification through organizations like the AAMA. There is no blanket federal requirement for medical assistant certification. Most pharmacy technicians pursue certification through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board’s PTCE exam.

What are advancement opportunities for pharmacy technicians?

Pharmacy tech advancement opportunities are somewhat limited compared to other healthcare roles. With experience, some may become lead technicians or supervisors. Obtaining specialty certifications in areas like compounding or vaccine administration can provide higher pay. Some may choose to return to school to become pharmacists but upward mobility is relatively constrained.

Do medical assistants have more career advancement opportunities?

Yes, medical assistants have clearer pathways to advance into nursing, healthcare administration, and other clinical roles with additional education and training. Their mix of administrative and clinical skills are applicable for advancing to these higher-level positions. Medical assistants can also pursue specialty certifications in areas like ophthalmology or podiatry assisting.

What is the difference between a medical assistant and a nurse?

A medical assistant is a healthcare professional who provides administrative and clinical support to physicians and other healthcare professionals. A nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who is responsible for providing direct patient care.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Pharmacy Technicians: ↗

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Assistants: ↗

American Association of Medical Assistants: ↗

Pharmacy Technician Certification Board: ↗

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